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50 Years of Montrose Environmental Group

2021 marks MEG's 50th birthday. Thank you to all our members, past and present, for your support over the last 50 years. We've achieved a lot over this time to improve the biodiversity value and local environment of Montrose and surrounding areas.

Some historical notes covering the first 50 years of MEG

Rodger Elliot AM & Gwen Elliot AM
May 2021

Note: This article was originally written in August 2001 and has been slightly enlarged in May 2021. It would be wonderful if members could add their recollections for the last 20 years to bring this piece up to the present day.

Montrose Environmental Group was formed just 50 years ago, primarily as a result of the proposal by VicRoads to construct a major highway through Montrose, on what was up to that time a relatively quiet, simple, and very attractive tree-lined two-lane road. The proposal was that the new highway would form an alternative route via Lilydale to Sydney for vehicles travelling from the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. There was considerable local concern at the highway proposal, resulting in the quick formation of an enthusiastic and very active group following an intense meeting at the Montrose Hall that was filled to capacity.

The prime mover in the forming of MEG was Ron Taylor, a solicitor living in Sheffield Road North, and was ably assisted by his wife Gwynnyth. Ron Taylor was the founding President and local primary school teacher Ray Yates was the founding Secretary. Meetings were held on third Thursday evening of each month in the Library of the Montrose Primary School.

A constitution was prepared, using the 1966 Constitution of the Blackburn & District Tree Preservation Society as a guideline. The membership subscription proposed was $2.00 per family, $1.00 per person or 25c for students.

A deputation from MEG met Alan Hunt, then Planning and Local Government Minister in State Parliament (and father of current Federal Parliamentarian Greg Hunt), regarding the proposed plans for the highway who gave MEG a good hearing but really was not helpful in trying to have the decision regarding the highway reversed.

About the only positive result from the construction of the highway was that MEG convinced the Shire of Lillydale following a site meeting with Ken Scott, then Shire Engineer to plant Australian plants as suggested by MEG on the roadside verges and in the median strip.

Montrose Environmental Group became very active and was involved in numerous conservation issues, both in the immediate area and further afield. In the early days considerable support was received from The Hon. Bill Borthwick, local Member for Monbulk 1967-82 and Minister for Conservation from 1970-79.

MEG was involved in meetings organised by the Urban Redevelopment Commission which was instigating the need for better planning of the Montrose Shopping and Schooling centres. Nothing came to fruition prior to 2001!

MEG was strong in its support for the implementation of the Upper Yarra & Dandenong Ranges Authority (UYVDRA) by the Victorian Government and the establishment of the independent Upper Yarra & Dandenong Ranges Environment Council which comprised members of local environment groups with we think from memory David Edwards representing MEG.

Submissions were undertaken on a wide range of projects including Land Conservation Council of Victoria Reports, Town Planning Appeals within the Shire, Montrose Reserve at the end of Browns Road, the Leversha Property abutting the Quarry, the Dandenongs Foothill Study by UYVDRA, the proposal for a new water main along the western road verge of Liverpool Road south of Canterbury Rd and so the list went on! Cambridge Road was seen as being of very high environmental value and a concerted effort to stress this importance was undertaken with letter-dropping of all residences, surveys of plants and birds, removal of weeds and planting of indigenous species.

It was also interesting that on several occasions Montrose non-MEG member residents would enlist MEG’s help in fighting their own personal battles with council or planning authorities.

MEG held numerous working bees including weeding and planting of roadsides, and had regular street-stalls on Saturday mornings especially if there was an issue that needed to be brought before the Montrose residents. These were held outside the then ANZ Bank (also then the site of the Wise Possum Gallery). MEG’s first pamphlet was published in 1973 titled Native Plants for Native Birds. Other matters included management of Olinda Vale Reserve where MEG had many working bees.

Founding Secretary, Ray Yates stood for local council supported by members of MEG and was a member of the Lillydale Shire Council for several years however over time Ray lacked the support of MEG. Member Len Cox was elected to Council in 1982, and is still a highly valued Councillor of the Yarra Ranges Council today and in 2019 received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

A brief history of the earlier years of Montrose Environmental Group would not be complete without the inclusion of Jean Richards. Jean was as tenacious as a Jack Russell Terrier when it came to environmental battles. She sought out information to support her case long before the Freedom of Information Act was in place, and caused many a public servant to hide behind the desk when she was seen entering the building. It was Jean who stood in front of the bulldozers one Boxing Day when an attempt was made early in the morning to hastily clear an area of prime vegetation in the Montrose Community Reserve. She then obtained the necessary legal documentation and a Supreme Court hearing, at which some MEG members presented evidence to prevent the clearing being done. Jean’s methods were not those adopted by more moderate members of the group, but no-one could question her determined dedication to the cause of conservation and the environment.

Cup-Weekend Flower Shows at Kalorama and Montrose Environmental Weekends

In addition to the regular monthly meetings, working bees, social activities and the support of local Montrose issues, MEG members became heavily involved with the Mt Dandenong Horticultural Society in staging the annual Melbourne Cup Weekend Flower Show, held at Karwarra Australian Plant Garden, Kalorama.

Later the group organised an annual Montrose Environmental Weekend, which was held for several years in the hall of the Montrose Community Reserve with Johann Kruize playing a very important role in their presentation. In addition to displays of Australian native plants and flowers there were displays on native birds & animals, solar energy, mud-brick making, spinning and weaving, natural dyes, bush foods and environmental issues from throughout Australia.

The Flower Shows and Environmental Weekends were always well supported, and became a major part of the outreach program in the early years of MEG.

The MEG Co-op. Property at Wartook, Grampians

In 1971 Montrose Environmental Group members became involved in the co-operative purchase of a house and 9 acres of land in the Grampians area.

Initial arrangements for purchase of the property had been made by Rodger & Gwen Elliot, with Ron Taylor handling the legal negotiations. The purchase price was $2000. Despite the fact that the property was fully fenced Ron insisted that the Elliots physically measure all boundaries and to the surprise of all concerned including the next-door neighbour it was found that the correct boundary line ran right through the middle of the house on the property, not where the fence had been located for many years.

Ron Taylor felt that the property was too good to let the purchase lapse, and having recently acted in the establishing of a residential co-operative ‘Bend of Islands’ for artist-conservationist, Neil Douglas, he suggested that an environmental co-operative society be formed, involving members of Montrose Environmental Group. This would enable the property to be purchased and used as a base for MEG families who wished to visit the Grampians.

This was subsequently done, with Ron’s assistance, under the rules of the Co-operation Act, 1958. The house and land price was finally negotiated at $1700.

The issue of the incorrect boundary was resolved by two Montrose Environmental Group families, Fred & Phyllis Leach and ‘Nick’ & Carol Nicholson purchasing the adjoining property, then donating the slice of land within the MEG Co-op. fenced area, to the Co-op, with the MEG Co-operative Society merely paying the legal and transfer fees.

Co-operative shares were issued at $12.50 each, with the minimum share allocation being two shares. Several individuals or families took up multiple shares to help in the initial establishment of the Society.

Society rules were adopted and initially all members of the new MEG Co-operative Society were required to also be members of the Montrose Environmental Group. It was only possible for this requirement to be in place at the time of joining, so it was later amended to the requirement that members of the Co-op. should be also members of an environmental organisation.

The MEG Co-operative Society was from its inception joined by several people who were also members of the Blackburn Tree Preservation Society and in subsequent years strong participation has come from members of the Society for Growing Australian Plants, Maroondah Inc.

The MEG Co-op., now officially known as the MEG Conservation Co-operative Society Ltd., is still in existence today. The once over-grazed property has been replanted with local indigenous vegetation and the original timber cottage (with numerous replacements of walls etc. because of the ravages from white ants) continues to provide kitchen, bathroom and loungeroom facilities for campers, as well as three bedrooms. Numerous families have had the pleasure of camping on site or in the house, of participation in working bees, and in various social activities, all in the magic environment of the Grampians.

Montrose Quarry

MEG was also very active in the successful opposition to the expansion of Montrose Quarry from 1996 to 2008. The proposed expansions to the Montrose Quarry would have removed important native vegetation as well having other significant environmental impacts. Below is a comparison of the existing quarry pit and a simulation of the proposed quarry pit after expansion:

Existing pit
Proposed pit

Although Boral had claimed it needed the expansion to keep the quarry going beyond about 2013, the quarry is still operating. At a meeting in 2017, Boral still treated the expansion proposal as current (see Boral meeting minutes) and they could theoretically apply again.

However, Boral obtained Council approval in 2014 for a 37-lot light industrial subdivision of land that used to be their main area for gravel stockpiles, on the western side of Fussell Rd. The land has been cleared, ready for development. The loss of land for storing gravel from the quarry suggests the quarry is winding down. This indication is supported by sequences of aerial photographs over recent years.

For current aerial photography of the quarry, see Google Earth (elevation-modelled) or Vicmap Basemap. Historical imagery is available in the Adastra Airways 1948 photographs.


Historical documents

Articles

Environment Group Meets at Montrose - article in Lilydale Express, 7 February 1971
Montrose Environmental Group: The Early Years - a history of MEG presented by Rodger Elliot in 2001

Brochures

The following informative booklets and brochures are no longer guaranteed to be relevant, but show some of the achievements of MEG over the years.

Roadsides: A Community Resource - published by MEG in the 1980s
Garden Escapees: A Blot on the Montrose Landscape - published by MEG in the 1980s
Montrose Fire Safety Garden brochure - information about the Montrose Fire Safety Garden (1999)
Montrose Quarry brochure - a flyer produced in Septemer 2007 as part of MEG's campaign against Montrose Quarry

Posters & photographs

Artefacts from MEG's early years

Poster - Montrose Environmental Weekend, September 1978
Poster - Montrose Environmental Weekend, September 1979
Poster - Montrose Environmental Show, September 1980
Photograph - Montrose Environmental Show, 1983
Photograph - Planting at Montrose Roundabout, c.1983-1984

Spinulosa

Spinulosa is MEG's newsletter, published four times a year. Below is a selection of past issues containing interesting articles including annual summaries, local developments, growing indigenous plants, and population growth.

Spinulosa July 1984 - Local news and development
Spinulosa August 1985 - Growing locally indigenous plants
Spinulosa May 1987 - Issues with local development
Spinulosa April 1987 - Population Growth
Spinulosa April 1990 - Kilsyth South Spider Orchid Land Purchased
Spinulosa November 2004 - Platypus in Olinda Ck, national park weeds, feeding wildlife
Spinulosa September 2012 - Summary of MEG's activities for the year
Spinulosa November 2015 - Summary of MEG's activities for the year
Spinulosa August 2017 - Summary of the 2017 AGM
Spinulosa May 2018 - History of the Spinulosa emblem